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Ed Koch: Fiercely Jewish But Buried in a Churchyard

He explained at the time that he could not bear the idea that his body would have to leave New York City. "This is my home, the idea of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."

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It was spookily ironic that former New York City mayor Ed Koch died on the anniversary of the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, when Koch had long ago chosen to have etched on his headstone the final words of Daniel Pearl, spoken just before Muslim terrorists beheaded him.

On Koch’s headstone, beneath a Mogen David, are the words:

“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

No one could doubt the pride in his religion, but following his funeral at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, Koch’s remains were buried in a plot outside the Episcopalian Trinity Church in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

As Mayor Bloomberg noted, “Just think about it, a Polish Jew, in an Episcopalian Churchyard, in a largely Dominican neighborhood.”

Koch bought his burial plot in 2008, when the Trinity Churchyard was the only cemetery in Manhattan that still had plots available.  He explained at the time that he could not bear the idea that his body would have to leave New York City.  “This is my home, the idea of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

In addition to quoting Daniel Pearl’s last words, Ed Koch chose the words for the rest of the inscription on the support stone of his tombstone.  It reads:

He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.

Above that, on the tombstone itself, is the first line of the Shema.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

It is highly unorthodox for a Jew to be buried in a churchyard, but the greatest concern is the sanctity of the individual graves, not the cemetery. Some rabbis believe it to be permissible if, surrounding the plot containing the Jewish remains, there is an enclosure or physical barrier about 40 inches high, thereby effectively creating a separate cemetery.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com


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